Rage, the Filipino, and Battalia Royale

Disclaimer: I am a Sipat Lawin Ensemble Player and oversaw Press Relations of Battalia Royale. The views below are my own, and do not reflect that of Sipat Lawin Ensemble, Battalia Royale, and its affiliates. Feel free to discuss, debate, or even disagree with my commentary. Let the material live through discourse.

When I watch the crowds cheer on the performance at Battalia Royale, pump their fists to the air when they decide to play to endgame, or roar their approval in deciding to kill Timothy during quarter time; I wonder if this is what lies beneath Filipnos being so-called the “happiest people on earth.”

I have friends in psychology who confided in feeling that the phrase has become nothing more than PR. The underprivileged smile because it’s all they have. It’s free. But it’s a shallow grave for the real grief of the day-to-day. The cliches still ring true: rich get richer, poor get poorer. The system is quaking. People are angry at change that isn’t happening fast enough.

Or it could be because I’m in Battalia, that the every day violence is all the more emphasized.

But this was the local news as Battalia Royale unfolded:

It’s not unusual for teachers in public schools to throw chalk or even chalkboard erasers at sleepy or delinquent students. If you’re not so lucky, it might be the desk. Then you hear of students actually getting beat up by teachers, during class.

A Dad turns a gun on his son’s classmate, when the classmate accuses the son of bullying him.

Meanwhile, in Cebu, an 11 year old girl finally kills her Dad after years of seeing him beat up her Mom.

“Why stage this when we’re surrounded by violence every day?!” Exclaims a colleague, upon seeing the show.

One man even made a statement on walking out when the audience voted for the remaining 13 or so students to kill each other at halftime, “Theater is a rehearsal for life.” he declares.

The first comment, after being shared on the BR page, a fan of the show accuses him of being an overly-righteous git.

Picture taken from Battalia Royale on Facebook.
Rough (and very bad translation):
Caption, top: “I walked out of Battalia Royale because I felt that was expected of me from the show…”
In Photo: “I walked out of Battalia Royale 3 because…”

On the flipside, one fan of Battalia Royale said the show helped him process his rage after having survived a kidnapping in Mindanao. Another viewer, a preschool teacher (one of many) said it was “refreshing” after spending days of repressing the aggravation of dealing with kids every day.

A few more who have raised a ruckus during the show, who cheered at every death, would think about the show a day after and feel guilty about the choices they’ve made.

Many, many more have decided to give other theatrical shows a try. They liked the reminder of thinking and feeling, when they’ve taught themselves to carry on and just do their job.

These are the things that aren’t picked up in the media, and only briefly mentioned in one BR article. It’s a sign that at least, for now, the rage is tempered.

I know and hail Battalia Royale as a sacred space for rage. But I wonder, as the headlines ring even more alarms, if it’s indicative of a tipping point for Filipinos. We’ve smiled long enough. We’ve lived with the worst long enough.

Has our countdown to endgame begun? And how much time do we have?

Recommended reading:

Otaku Champloo: Battalia Royale Beyond Battle Royale

Writings belong of David Finnigan: Being in Manila, presenting Symposium Royale

Battalia Royale Interactive


Back to Basics: What to keep in mind when reviewing theater

I lead a dual life as writer and freelance theater practitioner. My professional engagements in theater limit my coverage of the scene, but when available, I write what I can. Theater critics have their place and they are necessary, but there’s no use keeping them around if their criticism is, frankly, misguided.

There are very few reviewers in the Philippines who know what they’re talking about when they review theater.

So back to the drafts, and before you write out your review, consider the following —

1) Before you write about that part – are you sure you know what you’re talking about?
Everyone has a different sense of aesthetic, so focus on what you’re sure of. Don’t be a lights guy who tells the spinner how to balance his sound, or a stage manager who tells an actor how to attack his role. Keep in mind that the average reader just wants to know if its worth it to spend on a ticket, so look at it that way. Does it feel like a complete show? Are there parts that feel unrehearsed? Are there things you couldn’t hear, or faces you couldn’t see? Answer those questions instead. Don’t try to go over yours, or the average audience member’s head by getting into the nitty-gritties. The experts will catch you and prove you wrong.

2) Do you have pre-empted expectations of the show?
I’ve seen entire families brought to watch Avenue Q, while Xanadu the Musical is based on one of the worst movies ever made. Do those misconceptions stick with you throughout the show? Do they affect your viewership? If yes, explain what enforced or broke those misconceptions. Which leads us to—

3) Are your ideologies at the door?
Art has its grudges. If you have an ulterior motive to art, come clean with it. The best reviews I’ve come across parks its grudges in the opening paragraphs, and makes the framework for its opinions crystal clear in the process. I dislike reviews that try to pass as theater bibles. Help with audience development, companies want to know what kind of people watch their shows, give them a clear idea where you’re coming from.

4) Know your lingo: You don’t review the preview.
That’s why most theater companies have a PREVIEW before a  CRITICS NIGHT. A preview is equivalent to the first full-length dress-tech rehearsal with audience for a simulated show experience. Things will go wrong on preview night as it is the final knot in the process of production. CRITICS NIGHT is the first real show, and you’re welcome to sharpen your claws there.

5) You get what you pay, or don’t pay for. As much as possible, try to pay for your ticket. The fact that you paid for your ticket will make all the difference in your review, now that you’ve put value to seat and your time.

6) Show, not tell.
This applies to all opinion pieces. Assume your readers have not seen the show yet. Most of the time, the stuff onstage has never been seen or heard of before. This is a writing basic: give examples, give supporting details, don’t make generalizations.

A lot of these are writing basics. Golden rule: never forget the basics, they always work, in print or online.

Moonlight Over Manila

I’m currently doing production work for Repertory Philippines’ Romeo and Bernadette, a very loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the show, Romeo Montague wakes up in 1960s Brooklyn and chases after one girl that bears a stunning resemblance to Juliet. The girl turns out to be the daughter of a mob boss, and all hell breaks loose as Romeo woos her and finds himself in the crossfire of two warring mafia families. Internet geeks will recognize this as glorified fanfiction. When I said this was Shakespeare, shaken and stirred, I wasn’t kidding.

The material is filled with little gems that tickle the lit geek in me. It’s a little bit meta, narrated by a Brooklyn Guy trying to score with his date, it has theatrical in-joke (a song about how excruciatingly long it takes for a character to die), jokes about Romeo’s diction (“Where’d you learn English from, a bible?!”), and a modern adaptation of classical arias. All this tailored around a cleverly funny retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

This being February, it serves as the perfect Valentines Day date. Forget the cliche movie date, you can make yourself all cultured and debonair by catching a play, and guys can pick up a few tips on how to be a regular Romeo.

Speaking as a nerd with a shot of cynicism, while the play is enjoyable, I see it as a cautionary tale about falling for patterns. If you’re lucky in love, you’ll find your Juliet–or Romeo. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll find yourself hitched to some guido that just wants to get under your skirt. But hey, that’s just me. If you read this far, that means you got past my cynic warning.

Catch Romeo and Bernadette at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati, every Friday at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:30pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 3:30pm this February! You can call Repertory Philippines‘ Box Office at 88-70-710 or log on to Ticketworld for ticket purchasing and information.

Pictures taken by GR Rodis. Used with permission.

Uso pa ba ang Harana – are serenades still in style?

Yes they are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

I’ve hinted at a very busy week coming up, and no kidding. This is one of the things I’ve been occupied with, aside from my teaching jobs. My hands are very full but I am thankful for the work, especially for something I’m very passionate about.


Don’t let the ad fool you into thinking this is going to be just another cultural event. The songs showcased in ‘Harana’ might have been done over a thousand times over, but Philippine Opera Company, in their thrust to take opera to the next level, gives it a whole new spin. Fans and familiars of Filipino music old and new will find something to hum along to, be it the tribal or folk songs, or the contemporary classics. As someone who is familiar with more than a song or two in their program, trust me when I say this is one of the best arrangements I’ve heard of them. I especially love the Muslim suite and their covers of Freddie Aguilar’s ‘Anak’ and Basil Valdez’s ‘Nais Ko’.

No blog entry can do them justice, they really have to been seen and heard to be believed.

For those wondering what part I have in all this, I’m their tech baby, pushing the usual buttons and/or chasing their lapels. It’s how I always (and very gladly) spend my summer vacation.

So for those in the Philippines, help support the local arts scene! Watch ‘Harana’! For those outside of the Philippines, you can catch them in Amsterdam from June 8-15.


HARANA runs from MAY 28-30, 2009, 8pm at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater in RCBC Tower, Makati. Ring up for tickets at 8928786 or Ticketworld at 8919999.

Pictures taken by Jojit Lorenzo, borrowed from Ana Feleo.


28put Right before I watched Atlantis ProductionsThe 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I was just telling a friend how tended to purposely screw up my participation in elementary bees. I’d place, but I rarely finished. Perhaps I’d rather “not live up to expectations”.

Funny thing was, in this particular spelling bee, I was determined to get up to a certain round, and I still P-H-A-I-L-E-D gloriously.

Spelling Bee unfolds in…well, a little county spelling bee! It’s one of the few stageplays I know that’s part improv, part hard script, as it tells the story of the bee’s contestants and the judges. They also get a few celebrity and audience volunteers, just to spice it up.

Spelling Bee performance at the Tony Awards, featuring highlights of the show and a very special guest speller!

While waiting for the house to open, I caught the sign at the front desk asking for volunteer guest spellers. I jumped at the chance! I wasn’t allowed to volunteer at the last local production as I was a member of the company that staged it (Ateneo Blue Repertory) , and this time I stood a fighting chance. As I signed up, I was warned that I would only be called in the event of an absent celebrity guest speller. Swell. It would have gone down as opportunities I nearly had a stab at, which also made for interesting stories.

“Have you had any theatre experience?” The stage manager in charge of guest spellers asked.

Ok, so I had. Mostly backstage! And some onstage. Ok, more than some onstage experience, but for that evening I’ll declare it null and void.

“Nope.” I said with a BIG smile on my face. I was given a little ‘Finalist’ button to wear, as a thanks and a little plug for the available merchandise.

Later, celebrity guest speller did not show up so I was pulled aside and briefed. Standard etiquette, really: don’t be noisy, sit where you’re supposed to, this is what’ll happen during the show, this is what you can ask when you spell, etc etc. “And no acting, be yourself!” The stage manager instructed. Dang, so much for my tribute to High School Musical.

Guest spellers do not stay on for the whole show, and are set-up to be kicked off the stage before the final round of the show. People familiar with the musical strive to be the last speller standing marked by ‘The Counsellor’s Song’, and I wasn’t even going for that. I just wanted to be a part of one my favorite musical number’s, Pandemonium (click for youtube, as I’m not allowed to embed it here).

And probably because one of the judges has known me since I was 11 years old and I couldn’t keep my big precocious mouth shut at the time, my first word was tricky, For my first word, I was asked to spell ‘markdeer’. The way I spelled it is apparently wrong, and I can’t remember how the actual word is spelled! Google is not helping either, as I get hits for ‘marcdeer’ too. All I know is that it’s some Southeast Asian animal, and I’m not sure how to spell it!

Sucks to be me! (Oops, wrong play…!)

I had only been onstage for about 10 minutes, and I was the first guest speller off that evening. I got a hug from the counselor, a tetra pack of Sunkist orange, and I got to keep my button. I whimpered at not having been in the Pandemonium number, but ah well, the show goes on!

Thank God my ESL clients are based out of Manila! That has got to be the lowest point of my teaching career, I joked.

I’ll take my short Spelling Bee lifespan as God’s punishment for fibbing. Nonetheless, it’s 10 minutes of onstage awesome and the rest of the show was all-around fun that even non-aficionados would enjoy. So while you can, book your tickets today! Do not miss out on this one!

Spelling Bee Manila!

‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ runs until April 4, 2008. For show information, visit or ring them up at 892-7078 or 840-1187. You can also visit Atlantis Productions‘ Website for individual show contacts and information on their current season.